Dog Trained to Detect Water Pollution

No type of pollution is safe from this snout. (Photo: OakleyOriginals [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

My dog, Otis, can smell a burger cooking on a grill in the next county. Like many dogs, Otis has a good nose ... when it comes to food. It's a talent that's useful for Otis but not exactly for the environment.

That's why I was so impressed to hear about Sable, a 3 1/2-year-old German shepherd mix in Lansing, Mich., who uses his nose to save the planet. According to Sable's trainer, Scott Reynolds, who works for the environmental consulting firm Tetra Tech, Sable is the only canine known to reliably detect raw sewage or detergents flowing into sewers from illegal or bungled pipe connections.

According to a recent story about Sable in the New York Times, Sable has sniffed out illegal connections in three Michigan counties. And field tests in 2007 and 2008 showed Sable was 87 percent accurate compared with traditional laboratory water tests in detecting sewage in water. More often than not, Reynolds said that when Sable gets it wrong, it's because he detects animal waste rather than human waste in the sewers.

Word about Sable's eco-nose has spread across the country as communities in Maine and New Hampshire — struggling to protect their swimming beaches and shellfish beds from bacterial pollution — are considering bringing the dog to New England. It turns out that it costs roughly 10 times less to use Sable's nose to find illegal sewage connections than it would to use the expensive and labor intensive tests currently underway in many communities.

Now that's a nose to be proud of!